Part two of a two-part series. Read part one.
Tuesday, June 24, 2008 | For two decades, George Gorton had served Pete Wilson as a key architect of the politician’s rise from San Diego mayor to U.S. senator to California governor.
In 1995, Wilson and team launched a run for president. A generation after the weight of Watergate crushed Gorton’s career, he readied his return to the national stage.
Then, one morning, a headline in the Sacramento Bee smashed that notion: Wilson had hired an outside consultant with national experience to head the campaign, shoving Gorton aside.
Gorton had been told nothing. He was fuming and ready to blow.
This was the man who’d helped build the Pete Wilson political machine and sculpt a generation of San Diego politics. He’d helped elect President Richard Nixon in 1972, only to be caught in the jaws of Watergate and have to spend years fighting his way through a personal and professional hell to recover.
This was the man who’d been called upon to fly to Panama and meet with Gen. Manuel Noriega to help plot the country’s beginning steps toward democracy.
When Gorton found his long-lost son, he even roped him into the Wilson-for-office campaign family.
And now, again, it seemed as if everything he’d worked for was being taken from him. But as he headed toward Wilson’s office, a calm enveloped him. Gorton wasn’t the same man he was 22 years ago when a headline in the Washington Post ruined him. He’d matured. He’d found family and spirituality.
And now he had Don Miguel Ruiz.
Days before that Bee story arrived on the region’s doorstep, Gorton had gone to ex-wife Terry Barlin Gorton’s home to pick up his son, A.J. An unimposing man sat inside Barlin Gorton’s home, saying little until Gorton left. “You better get him involved in our group,” the man told Barlin Gorton, “because he’s about to go visit hell.”
The man was Don Miguel, a spiritual guide whose teachings were based on ancient, pre-Columbian wisdom. He attempted to push people toward happiness and love by adjusting how they view themselves and the world around them.
Gorton was invited to one of Don Miguel’s weekend retreats. There, in a role-playing exercise, Don Miguel put Judas on trial for the betrayal of Jesus Christ. He picked Gorton to play Judas and Barlin Gorton as the prosecutor. With the end of the hours-long trial exercise came a new perspective on the traditional story of epic betrayal. Jesus planned to be crucified and Judas was only helping him, according to Don Miguel’s twist.
“There is no such thing as betrayal,” Don Miguel said. He looked directly at Gorton. Don’t take anything personally, the man taught. People do things out of their own created perception of reality, not to hurt you.
“George, your issue is betrayal,” he said. “You will be betrayed. There is no betrayal.”
That’s great, Gorton thought, but I’ve got to get going.
The next day, the Bee story hit. And as Gorton stormed over to Wilson’s office, he suddenly heard Don Miguel’s words: “There is no betrayal.”
“Pete was just doing what he was doing for his own reasons,” Gorton says. “I was indulging in a form of self-pity.” He walked into Wilson’s office and calmly said he was leaving. “I’m a captain, not a first mate,” he said.
Gorton didn’t just buy into Don Miguel’s world. He inhaled it. The political consultant ascended in the ranks of Don Miguel’s disciples, becoming “nagual man,” the No. 2 spot in an organization that produces self-help books, sells DVDs and guides spiritual trips to Teotihuacan, Mexico. Gorton is named in the acknowledgements of Don Miguel’s best-selling book, “The Four Agreements.”
Don Miguel brought Gorton’s spiritual journey full circle. Spiritual training in new-age conferences and at Buddhist temples in Thailand had woken him up and taught him to balance a pursuit of peace with the high-powered, high-stress, cutthroat world of politics.
But Don Miguel showed him how to love. “You don’t feel love from other people,” Gorton says now. “You feel love from yourself.”
The meeting with Don Miguel wove a new thread into a pattern in Gorton’s life: No matter what he did, he cobbled together an unlikely but illustrious band of associates.
In politics, he worked alongside Boris Yeltsin and Arnold Schwarzenegger. One ex-girlfriend became mayor of San Diego; another served a key post at the United Nations. When he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, he was treated by the man who had unlocked an entire chest of the disease’s secrets in the 1980s.
He demonstrated an unusual stability despite suffering a normally debilitating invasion of Parkinson’s, a resistance so shocking to him that he’s begun to suspect that he was the victim of a poisoning attempt by political opponents in Russia.
But in 1995, Wilson’s move left Gorton without something he’d long been able to depend on: a Wilson campaign. The political consultant’s most dependable client over the decades had essentially canned him. Wilson’s presidential bid eventually failed anyway.
So he did what he always did when there wasn’t an election — he traveled. This time, he headed to Bali with Don Miguel. There, he accepted his next job by sending a simple fax: “I want in.”
Spinning Boris | Boris Yeltsin prepared for his first reelection campaign in 1996 after winning the first post-Soviet presidential election in 1991. His prospects looked dim.
He polled in the single digits. The economy was bad and war consumed Chechnya. People saw Yeltsin as a good guy surrounded by corrupt bureaucrats and businessmen.
In the years since communism had fallen, a small clique of former KGB agents and would-be tycoons had been the first to the table as a massive nationalized economy was broken up and passed out to private hands. The so-called “oligarchs” had grown rich snapping up what was once property of the state, the banks, car companies and television stations.